Restaurants & Bars 2

[PDX] Vindalho...

extramsg | Oct 28, 2005 02:23 AM

It's in a new building with a high ceiling and has a feel much the same as Lauro. Lots of comfy bench seating and simple, but stylish tables with bamboo tops. They have an open kitchen but only seating at the bar. There were a couple tables upstairs that overlook the dining room, but I didn't see any evidence that people were actually eating there. It might be something to ask about, though.

The menu is broken into four main sections, plus there is a separate dessert menu: starters, curries, tandoor oven, side dishes, and condiments. (There are also cocktails, beer, and tea sections.) Starters range in price from $5-$8, curries and tandoor from $12-$16, sides from $3-5, and condiments $2-3.

We ordered one starter, the spicy shrimp and potato samosas ($7), two sides, the cumin and fennel naan ($3) and the baby chickpeas in tomato ginger masala ($4), and two condiments, the roasted pumpkin raita ($2) and the mango pickles ($3). We also ordered the chicken tikka ($14) and the pork vindalho ($14) for entrees.

They started us with some free pappadam and tamarind chutney. Good. No oily off-taste, just light and crisp.

I think the samosas (3 in an order) were the best item of the night. They had a nice flakiness, though I would have liked them just a touch more browned. The interior had a flavorful creamy potatoes and chunks of tender shrimp. It was probably the spiciest item of the night, but not so hot that my wife couldn't enjoy it. It was accompanied by a tamarind date chutney. The sweetness of the chutney was a nice counter to the spicy samosas.

We also had them serve the baby chickpeas with the samosas. It's rather typical for a dal to come with samosas. They had a nice lentil flavor and texture, slightly sweetened by the tomatoes. Good flavor, but typically so for such things.

The raita, naan, and mango pickles came with our entrees; I'll discuss those later. The chicken tikka was crusted on the outside and relatively tender, though a bit dry inside. The chicken didn't have the usual red color, I would guess because they're not adding food coloring. The intensity of the marinade could be increased. I don't think it really penetrated the meat. A salad with onions and radishes was served on the side along with the baby chickpeas we had ordered as an appetizer. We wished that they had told us when we ordered it as an app that we'd get a taste with my wife's entree. We would have ordered something else. The salad sucked. The greens were totally wilted and there was no balance of flavors, just the bitter radish and the hot raw onions. The entree also came with the fresh coriander chutney (I assume), a puree of cilantro and yogurt and chiles. I enjoyed it. Fresh and more balanced than the average version. The sourness of the yogurt, plus a little sweetness from something, seemed to harmonize the flavors.

My wife and I both liked the pork vindalho better. The pork was fork tender but not mushy. However, it was a bit dry, perhaps the meat was not at the proper temp to keep the lubricating tissues liquid. The sauce was sweet, tangy, and fragrant. I've had more intense and more complex versions, but the flavors were balanced. A pyramid of light and fluffy saffron basmati rice studded with raisins was served on the side. Topping everything were shoestring sweet potatoes, more chewy than crispy. I'm not sure what was intended, but I would have preferred crispy. I liked how they tasted, however, and they matched the vindalho.

The naan was excellent, crispy on one side, intermittently puffed and splotched on the other. The texture was stretchy and almost shiny smooth. The fennel and cumin are fairly subtle. At $3 for one piece, I'd say the price seems high, though.

Likewise, the price for the condiments seems high. Any of the chutneys are $2 and come in very small little bowls, like you'd expect to get free at most Indian restaurants. I would guess there are only a couple tablespoons, maybe three, in each little bowl. The roasted pumkin raita was more yogurty than pumpkiny, but pleasant. The pickled mangoes had a strong grapefruity bitterness that I couldn't really handle. My wife said they also had an increasing spiciness. They seemed to be sitting in a chile oil with mustard seeds. I'd like to see a chutney platter for $5 or $6 instead with all the choices. I can imagine people actually ordering that. I wouldn't order the chutneys again. Too expensive for what you get and you really don't want just one at a time.

For dessert (all $6), my wife got the chocolate samosa and I got the selection of ice creams. The samosa is really just a puff pastry turnover with an intense chocolate sauce inside. It's served with a caramel sauce and sauteed bananas. The menu says the bananas are caramelized, but that's not really true. We're not talking maduros here, deep and brown from the conversion of their own sugars. This is one of those desserts that sounds more interesting than it really is. It would have actually been better as a true samosa with true caramelized bananas. I would have made a modified dulce de leche caramel sauce, too, maybe using yogurt if that's possible with some garam masala.

The three ice cream selections were chocolate, mango sorbet, and coconut. The two actual ice creams were very crumbly and didn't melt properly. The coconut tasted almost chalky, which is odd for a coconut ice cream. The chocolate was intensely flavored. The sorbet was the bset of the three, tasting strongly of the fruit and having a relatively smooth texture. A small portion for ice cream, but I didn't mind too much because they weren't that good. Would have been much better off getting a premium ice cream from the freezer section. And they could do something more interesting, like a cardamon ice cream.

The obvious comparison is to Vij's in Vancouver, BC. It's no Vij's. There were items at Vij's that I would have licked up off the floor they were so good. The menu was more interesting and the food better at Vij's. But I think it would hold its own against quality places I've been in cities with decent Indian food, eg, in the bay area. Although these places were a lot cheaper. But the flavors were fresh and balanced. There just wasn't anything fantastic.

It's comparable to the nearby Nuestra Cocina. Not great, not outstanding, but an enjoyable atmosphere, moderate pricing, and tasty food. Of course, this is just the first couple weeks and they haven't even started up specials, yet. And it's probably the best in Portland at this time. (But I wouldn't say it's better than Curry Leaf before it went downhill.)


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